One of the most unsustainable materials in the world has also become the most used material in the world: plastic. Over 300 million tons of plastic is produced each year, with a scary amount of it being single-use.
This is no surprise when we actually think about all the small ways we use plastic everyday. Coming to college made this realization even more frightening to me, because I realized that at every meal I was expected to use plastic utensils, straws, cups and containers. The whole campus is on this system of eating meals from dining halls or restaurants that do not always provide reusable plates and utensils.
What I have seen even more is that people often choose to use single-use plastics as a preference to reusable dishes because of convenience. Russell House definitely plays into these preferences by making plastics constantly more available and slowly removing some of their more environmentally friendly materials.
In this semester alone, I noticed that the glass cups in Russell have been completely replaced with plastic cups that are labelled as “compostable.” A lot of the other plastic in Russell is also marketed as eco- friendly because it is compostable plastic. The huge problem with this is that students see a green seal and take compostable to mean recyclable.
This is not true: the plastic cups cannot and should not go into plastic recycling bins because once burned down in a recycling center, these cups melt and ruin the whole batch of items being recycled with it. What do we do with the cups, then? Most students don’t compost from their dorms or apartments and will definitely not go to the trouble to take their compostables to Green Quad every time.
The best solutions for reducing our plastic waste as a university would be for students to consciously try to use less plastic in practical ways. This would include small steps such as not using plastic straws and utensils. Instead of taking food back to your room every time, eat in the dining halls with their silverware and washable dishes. The pollution that comes from washing dishes is astronomically less than the damage caused by plastics. Another thing that needs to happen on a larger scale is for the dining halls to create compost stations that students can place their plastics in, so that we are not arbitrators of the “single-use” offense. Until then, I encourage you to think about the effects of plastic waste and how you can change your daily habits not only on campus to be more sustainable.
More than eight million tons of plastic is dumped into the oceans each year, affecting wildlife and us. The plastic dumped into the ocean is eaten by marine life and ends up working its way up the food system all the way to us. When we absorb plastic that has been floating around the open ocean, we are subject to many chronic illnesses including, “endocrine disruption and cancer-causing mutations." Animals face intestinal problems from eating these plastics and can ultimately face death.
If this wasn’t enough reason to reduce your plastic consumption, think about the beaches that are quickly filling up with washed up plastic debris like Kamilo Beach in Hawaii. If we want to have vacation spots in 20 years, we might want to start thinking about today's actions.
The most plastic is used in packaging, but many people also don’t think about how to stop using plastic bags and water bottles which account for the next large bulks in single-use plastic percentages. These things have very easy fixes, as you can bring your own bags to the grocery store, and you can use reusable water bottles. I encourage all USC students to take one day to consider every plastic object you come into contact with and think of a way to use something else to prevent plastic waste. If we all worked together to make these small changes, restaurants and dining halls will take notice and cater to the needs of patrons. Maybe one day soon, Russell House will be made completely sustainable by our actions.